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Elbow grease, and the thrill of finding a whole orchard of feral peach trees

 
Dan Boone
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On one edge of our land is a driveway. Between the driveway and the fence is a weedy grass strip of easement under the power lines, and then a sort of neglected hedgerow about six feet deep.

Before I lived here full time, I would visit in the winter. And my spouse one day (this was five to seven years ago) pointed out an ice-damaged, broken, mostly-dead tree she said was a peach her father had planted many years ago.

She no longer remembers pointing out the tree to me, although she does remember her father "trying to grow fruit trees".

Fast forward. A few years later we started living here full time, and coming up on two years ago I started getting interested in the fruit and nut trees on this property (mostly pecans, persimmons, and plums, but also including one ancient domestic Keiffer pear tree.) At some point I went and looked at the peach tree spot, but the only tree there was ice-broken, fallen down, and long dead. The whole area has grown up into a bramble the size of two parked cars, with the main bramble being some sort of wild-ish climbing thorny vine in the rose family. It's very daunting and inaccessible. Since the tree I was interested in was very dead, I said "someday I'll have to clear all that bramble out of there" and went on about my business.

Over time I've gotten better and better at spotting wild and feral fruit trees. You learn what they look like, you learn when they flower, you just train your eye with practice. And about a year ago, a friend gave me the gift of some nursery fruit trees, including one peach. I planted it in a good spot and watched it closely as it struggled with deer browse and last summer's dry spells. I became very familiar with what a young peach tree looks like.

And thus, at some point last year, I was standing in the driveway when something clicked and I said "Hey! That random brushy tree growing up out of that bramble pile looks like my peach tree!" So I took a closer look and sure enough, it was a volunteer peach tree taller than me, about six feet from where the old tree had stood. That got me peering into the bramble and I was able to notice two more much smaller peach seedlings struggling in there as well. Clearing away the bramble and liberating those trees got bumped up my priority list, but with hand tools it's an ugly job and I didn't get around to it.

Well, finally this spring the largest of the volunteer peaches -- now about eight feet tall -- exploded with a huge crop of blossoms, which caught my attention and reminded me that these trees needed attention. So I got my machete and my loppers, put on heavy gloves and a protective long-sleeve shirt, and got to work.

This turned out to be one of those "can't get there from here" jobs because the only place to stack the brush and trimmings is along the fence, which itself needed clearing of some dead Eastern Red Cedars and random shrubbery. So I ended up hacking all the way around the bramble before I ever even attacked it, and at one point I found myself standing at a new vantage point and ... hey! Isn't that three more peach saplings buried there in the other side of the bramble?

Sure enough. And then when I got all the way to the fence and was standing taking a breather and looking at the bramble on the neighbor's side of the fence: "Hey! Isn't that three MORE peach trees just on the neighbor's side of the fence?" Yes, yes it was.

The moral here is that no matter how many times you stare at a thicket, you don't learn what's really growing in it until you attempt to take it apart with hand tools. Elbow grease pays off here. (This is not the first time I've found small but potentially valuable trees while clearing brush.)

At this point I have still only removed about half the bramble. But when I got to the base of one of the places where all the vines were erupting out of the ground, I found a whole cache or trove of about two dozen peach pits, all in a pile as if a small animal crouched in that one "safe spot" at the heart of the bramble to eat foraged peaches. The pits themselves do not look particularly old. How long do peach pits stay whole and fresh-looking (not black or discolored) under a thick bush?

And considering how many of them germinated in place, just how long do they stay viable? I could not resist the temptation to plant all these pits in a couple of nursery beds, so perhaps I'll find out.

I'm up to a total of six discovered trees on our property and four more just over the fence on the neighbor's side. Two of our trees are very small (stunted by bramble competition, or just young) and too near the larger ones; so I may well transplant and relocate them at a suitable time.

The big mystery to me is those pits. Do they date from when the main tree was alive and making fruit? (At least five years ago, more likely six or seven years ago.) Or did one of the young trees (possibly the older one on the neighbor's land) make a crop more recently? If so, it wasn't the largest one that I had already noticed last year; I looked at it quite closely and it didn't bear fruit last summer. (We had a hard and slightly late frost that disrupted a lot of fruit production locally.)

At any case, I'm rather tickled to have found a whole volunteer peach orchard, with genetics that have produced at least one crop of peaches under my local conditions without any care or attention whatsoever. That's the kind of peaches I want to grow!
 
susan vita
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You struck gold---or peach as the case may be!!!
Congratulations, i'd be tickled pink too.

We found a peach tree ourselves when I noticed fruit hanging through the wild raspberry forest. Like you I climbed in for a closer look and found one little tree, completely laden with almost ripe peaches. We were thrilled, lol.
 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a) ~39" rain/year
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I'm now a year and maybe a month into my serious efforts to grow fruit and nut trees from seed. I now have many small saplings in buckets, but the ratio of live successes to dead failures is ... unfavorable. My appreciation for just how *hard* it is to grow fruit trees has gone way up. So, yeah, thrilled is not a bad word for how I feel when I find some more fruit trees on our property.
 
David Livingston
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I had similar luck with plum trees you never know what is hiding under bramble and the like until you look
David
 
David Wood
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You might find that the bramble area was providing protection from deer and some shelter for the seedlings. They might not have got started without the brambles. And the deer might find them without the protection.

I've seen browser nibbles on a seedling when I've removed blackberries.

On a related note, we're transplanting volunteer fruit tree seedlings to our block with the intention of growing them for timber. Some fruit trees make good timber.

 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a) ~39" rain/year
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David Wood wrote:You might find that the bramble area was providing protection from deer and some shelter for the seedlings. They might not have got started without the brambles. And the deer might find them without the protection.


Yeah, I am alert to that possibility. Fortunately it's in a spot that gets pretty good canine protection from our (admittedly lazy) dogs.

The biggest few of these trees are large enough to have plenty of foliage up above deer browse height. The smaller ones were deeper in the bramble and will be most at risk when its protection goes away. I don't do a lot with mechanical deer protection but I might use a little here.
 
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